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The stone materials quarried in Bavaria -- particularly Jura stone -- have long been noted for their abundant fossilization, with many architectural works taking care to highlight this aspect of the stone. Taking this concept to the next level, the Jura-Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, houses a wealth of fossils that have been discovered in the region, and it has been visited by leading paleontologists from around the world.
The museum, which has been established in what was once a medieval castle, was opened in 1976 and is owned by the state of Bavaria. “We are now starting to refurbish it piece by piece,” said Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, curator of the museum.
Kölbl-Ebert explained that the word “Jura” originated in the mountains of Switzerland, where large deposits of the stone can be found. But today, it is actively quarried in Germany as well. The stone is extracted at different levels, including 25 in all. One layer starts at the town of Treuchtlingen and stretches to another town called Kelheim.
“The fossils that we see aren’t typical of central European climate, but the temperature was much hotter then,” said the curator, explaining that the fossils found in the Jura stone are traced back to 10 million years ago. “It was like the Sahara Desert.”
Among the prized possessions at the Jura-Museum is the “Juravenator Starki,” which was discovered in 1998. While “juravenator” means “Jurassic hunter,” “Starki” was the last name of the owner of the quarry where the fossil was found.
“It took endless time to prepare [the fossil],” said Kölbl-Ebert, explaining that the site where the fossil was discovered is located about 12 km down the river from Eichstätt. “It has one larger claw than the other. It is about 17 million years older than the T-Rex.”
Another interesting collection of fossils on display at the museum is the Pterodactylus, which is a cross between a dinosaur and a bird, according to Kölbl-Ebert. “It has teeth, claws and a vertebrae like a dinosaur, but it also has feathers,” she explained. “This area is very famous for the Pterodactylus. That’s why specialists from around the world come here.”
While the most common way that the fossils in the area are found is pressed between two layers of Jura stone, on rare occasions they can also be found pressed into one layer. “It is interesting to show how fossils are found,” said Kölbl-Ebert.
In addition to dinosaurs, the museum also has a large fish preservation. “Something that is really special is the jellyfish impression that we have, because they are mostly water,” explained Kölbl-Ebert. “About two years ago, we had a Russian jellyfish specialist visit. She was amazed. She said it was like having a real specimen.”
To provide living visuals, the museum also maintains a live coral reef. The aquarium also includes various types of tropical fish. It is another way for the museum to educate its visitors.
In the future, the Jura-Museum plans to have its own Jura stone site to search for fossil remains. But for the time being, it is happy to have the cooperation of the local quarries in the area. “The important thing is that it is all found here [in Eichstätt],” said Kölbl-Ebert.